By Staff Sgt. Erica Jaros
District of Columbia National Guard
National Guard members tend to be a reflection of the diversity found in the communities they serve. As members of those communities, they bring the traditions, perspectives, and a wide variety of experiences to their military organization. Whether it’s Black history, women’s history, LGBTQ pride, Hispanic heritage, or any other cultural observance, the D.C. National Guard recognizes the strength in honoring the diversity of its personnel—and that of the country’s citizens—throughout the year.
“The Army’s vision is to build cohesive teams that are culturally diverse, ready, professional, and integrated,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Nushat Dyson, deputy joint task force operations director, D.C. National Guard. “It’s really important that our military organization, serving the citizens of the United States of America, represent all genders, all races, as well as all ethnicities that are included in our very diverse nation.”
The Department of Defense adheres to the belief that diverse backgrounds and experiences give the military a strategic advantage to succeed and maintain readiness. Dyson’s team, which supported the 59th Presidential Inauguration last month, has service members from different backgrounds and cultures, as well as some international partners.
“My small team was able to come together and produce some of the best operational planning products I’ve ever seen,” she said. “All because they felt heard; they were included. It was a very diverse team and that really helped ensure we were successful with the mission.”
In celebrating the diversity of the D.C. National Guard, Soldiers and Airmen are recognized as individuals with various skills, experiences, and perspectives. Having people feel enabled to bring their individual voices to the table when planning or problem-solving is what makes an organization stronger.
“What’s important about diversity and inclusion is that it doesn’t matter your race, it doesn’t matter your sexual orientation, your gender, everyone has an opportunity to be involved and come together and be a part of serving our country,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Williamson, a religious affairs Airman assigned to the 113th Wing with the D.C. National Guard.
The military is invested in creating strong teams, but that doesn’t mean focusing on how everyone is alike. Over the years, it has become a recognition about what makes service members unique and how their differences can improve the team and bring people together.
In addition to bringing people together within the D.C. National Guard, it is also important for the organization to connect with the American citizens they serve.
“We’re the face of our nation’s defense, and that means defending our nation’s values, our freedoms.,” said U.S. Army Maj. Aaron Rozovski, deputy Joint Force Headquarters chaplain with the D.C. National Guard. “When the American public sees those who are defending them celebrating these various months, they say ‘Wow! If this is important to the military and everything they do, this should be important to us as well.’”
By incorporating observances like Black History Month into the organizational culture, the D.C. National Guard is working to create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive. Acknowledging historic achievements, personal experiences, traditional meals, or cultural observances allows people to share their unique identities with co-workers.
“It’s important to include those diverse perspectives and recognize them, especially as [awareness] months arise,” said Dyson. “That ensures our Soldiers and Airmen are highlighted, and they also feel like they’re heard and that their culture is important.”
Dyson recalled that in recent years the D.C. National Guard had a Hispanic heritage celebration day. In 2019 they highlighted the traditional foods and recognized personnel of Hispanic background in the organization.
“We were able to bring in the actual food and share in that with them,” said Dyson.
Developing a diverse and inclusive organization doesn’t end with recruiting and acknowledging diverse personnel. Fostering inclusiveness means continually seeking out a variety of perspectives and incorporating people’s varying backgrounds and experience to enhance the team as a whole.
“Being a rabbi in the chaplain corps means you are giving that Jewish voice,” said Rozovski. “It’s a privilege to know that the chaplain to my left could be Muslim. The chaplain to my right could be Catholic or Baptist. Just to know that there’s this diversity of thought, and that they’re going to do everything they can for that Jewish service member, and that I’m going to do everything for that service member of their faith group, it means the world.”
Recognizing the diversity of an organization also means looking back at the history associated with it. Many units can trace their lineage back through units that served in Korea, both World Wars, and even further.
“I take a lot of pride being in this organization knowing that we’re wearing the same boots as the 372nd Military Police Battalion, which back in WWI was an all African-American infantry unit that fought in France,” said Rozovsky. “It’s humbling. Every day when you put on the uniform, you’re trying to live up to the standards of excellence, bravery and commitment.”
Promoting diversity and inclusion is a constantly evolving and never-ending process. The more that process it is nurtured, the more it grows and strengthens the fabric of the organization.
“Everyone played an important role in getting the country where it is today,” said Williamson. “With women’s rights, African-American history, Native American history – everyone contributing to making this a great country, because of that diversity has opened so many doors for future generations as well.”
The D.C. National Guard is fully dedicated to understanding their members and recognizing the experiences, skills and perspectives that they bring to the military as individuals. Honoring and respecting service members’ cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles is what builds a successful and resilient organization.
“As we continue to do that across our organization, [people] will feel that their voice matters,” said Dyson. “So, whenever we ask a service member for their input into anything, they’ll be able to feel that they don’t have to forget about who they are and where they come from. They can bring their whole selves to the team and [know that] we value and appreciate it.”